On April 27, we screened the animated TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender. We picked three episodes which include obvious relations to the conflict between Tibet and China. Following the screening, we had a really interesting conversation about the similarities between the cartoon and the Tibetan freedom movement.
The Avatar reminded many of us of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In fact, the show explicitly draws such parallels. For example, the Avatar is recognized through very similar traditions as the Dalai Lama. Just as the Avatar is seen as the only person who can end the war, the Dalai Lama is seen by many (including the Chinese state) as the most important person in the Tibetan freedom movement. Just as the Fire Nation believes that the Avatar is the sole person in their way of conquering the other nations, the CCP believes that the Tibetan freedom movement is orchestrated uniquely by the Dalai Lama. However, while the show justifies such hyperbole regarding the Avatar, the Dalai Lama is one of many individuals who are making a real difference in the Tibetan freedom movement.
The episode which sparked the most conversation was one in which Ang disguises himself as a student and attends a Fire Nation school. In this episode, we see how the Fire Nation turns its education system into a propaganda machine, thereby gaining control over its citizens by shaping how people see the world. The similarities between the ways that the Fire Nation and China indoctrinates its students are uncanny. One girl who had spent some time teaching in China said that this is really how education works in China. Speaking of Chinese students she said, “They get broken and remade.” She said that school is often used in other ways to control people. For example, when there are protests students will be kept in school so that they cannot join. She also pointed out that although more and more middle-class Chinese are going abroad for their education, people go abroad to bring knowledge back to China rather than to use this knowledge to make political demands.
Stay tuned for the next film screening on Lhakar!